Feature

After the typhoon, chaos

Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, killing at least 2,344 people and flattening everything in its path.

Panic and desperation gripped parts of the Philippines this week, after Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the island nation, killing at least 2,344 people and flattening everything in its path. With aid workers struggling to reach some of the worst hit areas, around 11 million people were left without food, water, or shelter. The coastal city of Tacloban bore the brunt of the record-breaking 195 mph winds and 13-foot storm surges. As it entered a fifth day without aid, President Benigno Aquino dispatched soldiers to contain widespread looting and violence. Thousands stormed the airport hoping to flee. “No food, no water, no light,” said Tacloban resident Mary Jane Garcia. “We survived the typhoon, but this will kill us.”

The United Nations appealed for $301 million in aid, and the U.S. dispatched the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to help the mammoth recovery effort. The Philippine government defended its slow response to the storm, which came weeks after a major earthquake. “This is the largest logistic operation in the history of the Philippines,” said one cabinet official.

The disaster may be “unprecedented for the Philippines,” said Costas Synolakis in WSJ.com. That’s no excuse for the lack of preparation. Around 20 cyclones hit the country each year, and given this one’s massive size, “the sequence of events was predictable.” Haiyan moved “at a bicycle’s pace,” giving the government “ample time” to get organized. So why the chaos?

Here’s a simple explanation, said Max Fisher in WashingtonPost.com: “poverty.” The Philippines ranks 165th in the world by GDP per capita, meaning residents can only afford light wood to construct their flimsy homes and “supposedly storm-proof shelters.” That’s why Haiyan wiped out whole areas in seconds, destroying roads and ports crucial to the delivery of local and international aid.

Such storms will become even more devastating, said Adam Sobel in CNN.com. Global warming may be debatable, but rising sea levels are a fact. That will make flooding—Haiyan’s “deadliest weapon,” as it was with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina—even deadlier in the future.

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